Love, Money, Good Looks

Last week's bizarre, fairy-tale ending of Fox’s Joe Millionaire — in which the titular bachelor apparently saw through a sea of scheming hotties to choose the virtuous, working-class Zora — came as a surprise to some, and a disappointment to others.

The Cinderella denouement betrayed the cynicism of the program’s original premise: to expose and humiliate a woman only interested in a man for his money.

Many viewers had expected the program to deliver a much-deserved comeuppance to all the women who battled over the bachelor and donned painfully out-of-style wedding dresses to marry a millionaire.

For some reason, the idea of a woman wanting a man only, or primarily, for his money strikes a visceral chord with most.

Based on the show's gleefully gloating advance press, America was just chomping at the bit to exact some sort of revenge on these kinds of women. What better way than to trick a batch of cat-fighting gold diggers into competing for a millionaire husband who is actually a “$19,000-a-year construction worker”?

But Joe Millionaire didn’t deliver, instead going for the girl with the inner beauty who played hard-to-get, and whose blue-collar background matched his. And for her part, his money — or lack thereof — didn’t seem to matter.

But what if it had? Is there really something so wrong with a woman (or a man, for that matter) looking for professional and financial success in a potential mate?

The fear a woman is only interested in money is a major concern for many men. I’ve known men with no money at all who have somehow deduced a woman is financially using them — and also men who conspicuously flash their money for the sole purpose of attracting and impressing people, yet who need desperately to believe the woman he winds up attracting this way has no interest in his wallet.

When a man is wronged by a woman, his post-mortem review of the relationship will likely be a litany of all the gifts he bought, and dinners paid. When I met my husband, the only thing he couldn’t get over about his ex-girlfriend was not his feelings for her or the horrible way she treated and cheated on him, but that she dumped him after he’d taken her on a vacation.

I know men who lie about their jobs on Wall Street or in law firms and tell women they meet they are hairdressers and schoolteachers to safeguard against the possibility the woman might be attracted to their success.

Sure, everyone wants to be loved for who they are, not what they have or what they can give to or do for you. But I don’t see what’s necessarily so wrong about a woman finding financial success an attractive quality in a man, because I don’t see how it's much different from a man choosing a woman based on her looks.

An irrefutable fact of our most primitive human biology is that women are programmed to look for men who will be good providers for their children, while men are programmed to be attracted to women who can bear them offspring. The physical features that are considered attractive on a human female represent youth and good health: fertility. It’s science.

Today, I don’t see how one is more acceptable than the other. Let’s imagine what would happen if women started wearing fat suits and prosthetic noses to bars so that they could insure the men they meet were interested in their inner beauty, not their fantastic figure or pretty face.

Or imagine a female version of Joe Millionaire. In this program, Marry a Model, men would be duped into competing for the affections of a hideously homely woman who has somehow been disguised as a supermodel.

Both premises are unimaginable.

If you think about it, a person’s job and financial success can indicate all sorts of admirable attributes and qualities — ambition, responsibility, intelligence, maturity — that no man or woman could be blamed for desiring in a partner.

A person’s good looks indicate basically that ... they were lucky enough to be born good-looking. So it could be argued that the premium placed on looks is much shallower and value-less than that placed on money.

A few zaps of the remote away from Joe Millionaire, money didn’t really figure into the decision made by ABC’s The Bachelorette.

Trista shocked viewers by choosing to take on a long-distance engagement with the shy, sensitive fireman/poet Ryan over Charlie, the outgoing, fellow Californian financial analyst who appeared to be a more obvious match. But it seems ABC screened the candidates so that no matter where Trista’s heart led her, she wouldn’t wind up with a total loser.

Why? Because for men or women, doing well professionally is a positive sign. But like the women who decided to make a play for a millionaire, do you think any of those guys — including the apparently head-over-heels, genuinely in-love Ryan — would have been there in the first place if they didn’t know, going in, exactly what the very lovely Trista looked like?